ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: And then there were four! The Philip F. Anschutz Trophy is within reach for Toronto FC, Crew SC, Sounders and the Dynamo, and the guys break down how the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs got to this point. First on the list of conversations ... the brouhaha at BMO Field as beef between Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan spilled into the locker-room hallways! Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
The 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs are on hiatus until Nov. 21, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to talk about in the interim. Today, senior editor Andrew Wiebe wonders how Toronto FC will deal with the absence of Sebastian Giovinco and, depending on appeal, Jozy Altidore in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against Crew SC.
Thanks to the Brouhaha at BMO Field, the Tussle in the Tunnel, the Clash in the Club or whatever semi-clever, alliteration-based moniker you’re bored enough to come up with, Major League Soccer got the TMZ treatment this week.
It’s near impossible not to be sucked in by the grainy, red-tinted, cell-phone footage of the melee that went down at halftime of Sunday’s Eastern Conference Semifinal second leg after tensions on the field between Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan spilled over into bowels of the stadium and resulted in red cards for violent conduct for both stars, leaving both teams to play the remainder of the match with 10 men.
Toronto FC believe the red card issued to Altidore and the ensuing suspension for the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series ought to be rescinded. To wit, they submitted an official appeal that includes security footage of the incident, both of which are now subject to review and investigation by an independent review panel (read about that procedure here).
Altidore and Toronto FC say he was “ambushed” by Red Bulls players and staff and wasn’t a part of the scrum. Kljestan says he was pushed into a wall and his conscience is clear. The final word will come from the independent review panel, which has ample time to gather evidence and consider whether the suspension should stand ahead of Leg 1 in Columbus on Nov. 21.
And while there’s no doubt that Altidore’s uncertain status and Sebastian Giovinco’s suspension for the match thanks to a pair of yellow cards will clog the MLS newscycle in the weeks to come, I can’t help but think Toronto FC will probably be just fine without both of their leading scorers, if it indeed comes to that.
Why, other than the fact that Toronto FC have proven they're the superior team? Two reasons, mainly, and neither has much of anything to do with Columbus, who have every reason to believe they can pull the upset and earn a second crack at MLS Cup in three years.
First, Toronto FC are probably only team in MLS built to survive a body blow of this magnitude (see Timbers, Portland). General manager Tim Bezbatchenko has done a magnificent job accumulating talent, and it’s time to prove the depth we’ve praised all season long can step up when it matters most, when the club’s best-of-all-time season is in the balance.
Victor Vazquez (pictured above) was in my Best XI, and now gets the keys to the attack. Good luck with that, Crew SC back six. Tosaint Ricketts (7 goals in a shade over 1,000 minutes played) has been chomping at the bit for an opportunity all season. Same for Jonathan Osorio, Armando Cooper, Jordan Hamilton and a legion of others. Think those guys don’t remember waltzing to a 5-0 win against Crew SC in late May, a game both Altidore and Giovinco missed? Nah, me either.
Second, the club’s most important and influential player – that’d be Michael Bradley, don’t @ me – is going to well rested and beyond motivated for the occasion. Actually, my guess is he'll be pissed off. The boos, chants, slights and trash talk, both on the field and off, directed both Bradley and Toronto FC’s way over the past month or so have built up into the sort of "How do you like me now?" opportunity the club captain is sure to savor. This is his opportunity to back up his words with action and his chance to establish an unimpeachable MLS legacy as the unquestioned leader of the league’s best-ever team.
It also helps that Crew SC don't have a Tyler Adams to occupy the space in which Bradley's most comfortable and effective. He's going to have time and space to dictate the game, and despite his legions of haters, he's still Best XI quality. No Altidore? No Giovinco? Toronto FC can still run you off the field.
No, the Reds aren’t playing at their late-summer standard, but the truth is they don’t need to be to survive the Eastern Conference Championship. They need their depth to step up, they need Bradley and Vasquez to do what they’ve done all year and they need to avoid the kind of first-leg debacle that sunk New York City FC. Add in an away goal or two, and now two of the league’s best players are rested and ready to put Columbus away.
So while you comb through tunnel footage, trying to figure out exactly who was in the middle of Sunday’s fracas, who exactly yelled the now-iconic line “Why are you here?” – my bet is Greg Vanney – and wait for the independent review panel to make their decision, remember that even if the faces in the lineup change, the status quo remains the same.
Toronto FC are MLS Cup favorites, and the only thing that can keep them from their ultimate goal is themselves.